The pursuit to make prayer personal

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Angela Chadwick, Global Director of Prayer for Alpha International, talks with us about prayer, what it looks like day in and day out, and how prayer is that place where God becomes personal when we show up as our authentic selves.

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Get Your Spirit in Shape features conversations to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. Logo by Sara Schork, United Methodist Communications.

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This episode posted on February 18, 2022.

Transcript

Prologue

Crystal Caviness, host: As people of faith we understand that prayer plays an important role in our lives. Prayer is that time, we are taught, to bring what’s on our heart to God, whatever it is. But what does that look like day in and day out for us? How do we make that connection with God? Today’s guest on Get Your Spirit in Shape is Angela Chadwick, the Global Director of Prayer for Alpha International. We talked with Angela about prayer which she defines as that place where God becomes personal when we show up as our authentic selves.

Crystal: Angela, welcome to “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” I’m so excited that you’re here today.

Angela: Crystal, I’m really excited to be here as well. Thank you so much for having me on.

Crystal: So, we’re going to talk about prayer which is definitely a space that you spend a lot of time in in your role as Global Director of Prayer for Alpha International. That feels like a lot. Tell me what that means, Global Director of Prayer.

Angela:  I even wonder sometimes what it means. It’s a newer role. Alpha as an organization has always been a prayerful organization. But in recent years we’ve decided that it would be helpful to have somebody really mobilize our efforts in prayer, internally as well as externally, because we work with churches all over the world. And so a lot of my role is how do we fan the flame of prayer in the churches we serve and across our staff. And really we are…. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this phrase with Alpha, but we always say Alpha is perfectly designed to fail unless God shows up. And so we are dependent upon the Lord to show up every time. We need prayer and that’s my role.

Crystal:  We need prayer indeed. And you could just like, hard stop, the end of the conversation. We do need prayer. Alpha International is an ecumenical organization, from what I understand, serving churches of all denominations. But you have some Methodist roots. Or you are a product of the Methodist Church, I think, was the phrasing. Tell me about your connection to the Methodist Church.

Angela: I grew up in Rockwell, Texas, at the First United Methodist Church there. And that was my home church growing up, my whole life. I am a bi-product of really good youth ministry that we had at the church there. So I’m really passionate about youth ministry in the church. And it was just a safe space for a young person to explore faith with friends. Our church was really good at serving the community. So I learned a lot about service. For me I had such an affection for the Methodist Church. My husband and I have moved to different places across the world and have been at different types of churches since then, but have always had a dear and near place in my heart for the Methodist Church because of my upbringing.

Crystal: I love that. Saying that you’ve lived in different places across the world, how is prayer different or the same across the world that you’ve witnessed?

Angela: That’s such a good question. You know, I mean, there’s definitely different practices, different containers in which prayer takes place. But I would say what we’ve learned at Alpha in serving the church and different parts of the church is that the ways of Jesus look the same. The practices may be a little bit different, but the heart and intention looks the same in every context. So you really do feel like you’re part of a family when you see people in prayer inviting the Holy Spirit, being led by the presence of God. In that way it’s very unifying. It’s probably the beginning place of unity is prayer. And in that way it feels very normal. I mean, I would say, too, I think it’s really hard to articulate the value of prayer and the impact of prayer, I think, into words because really what we’re talking about is a practice. It’s not just something to be taught through words. It’s something to be taught through doing. So, talking about this global perspective, you know, you think about, okay, Jesus died for the whole world. But in prayer…and we see this all the time with people, there’s something that happens that makes that connection of Jesus dying for us real and personal and intimate, just for us. And it’s in that practice of prayer that that becomes real for you and me. And it’s Jesus suddenly died for me and for you. Yes, of course for the world. But it’s in prayer that it becomes so personal. And you see that in the global church. As people pray they have these very real encounters with the living God. And it’s personal and propels them forward in mission. It propels them to do the things that they do on this earth for him. But it’s really hard to articulate the impact of that because I do think that in prayer it suddenly becomes personal. It becomes about you and the God who loves you.

Crystal: Angela, how do we take prayer that sometimes … I’m just being honest here.…sometimes can feel like routine, or can feel like I’m just kind of saying the same words or, you know, group of words the same way. And it’s maybe a habit. How do we make that transition to where it becomes something…to use your word, personal?

Angela: Yes. That’s such a good question. So, I would say…. Let me start with this. When Covid hit, it was a crisis moment. And there was a study done in Copenhagen that showed that across the world the Google search for how to pray went up 50 percent. So the world in this moment of crisis was literally searching on Google, literally searching how to connect with the God who loves them. I think it’s Moses who says in Deuteronomy, ‘What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord, our God, is near us whenever we pray to him?’ So essentially God promises to draw close to us when we pray. So when we come into prayer we have the promise of the presence of God. So I feel like before we even begin…. Like, if we start to think about prayer it’s just this monotonous thing, to go in thinking, Okay, when I come into prayer I have the promise of the presence of God. And when we pray, you know, that happens. We get filled with the Holy Spirit. I started to call it the unfair exchange that takes place when I’m praying because I come in with all my junk, right? I’m frustrated from my day, or I’m angry about this. Or I’m feeling anxious. So I come in with all my stuff. And then as I kneel to pray, then He comes in. He draws close as is His promise. And He’s good and perfect and loving and filled with peace. And there’s this moment I feel like, for me, this happens every time, this moment where it’s my stuff and the perfection of the Lord look at each other. And you could, I think, in that moment want to walk away because you think, Ugh, I just don’t live up to what I’m seeing. Or I notice all my insecurities or imperfections. And you could walk away. But I have found what happens is, as I give him all my stuff in prayer, He in return gives me his peace, His love, His joy. And there’s just this unfair exchange takes place. And I’ve found in prayer, spiritual promises become reality. So He promises us this joy. He promises us peace. He promises us the pouring out of his love. And I find when I pray the promise of that, that spiritual promise becomes a reality in me. And suddenly I am filled with joy. I am filled with peace. So to answer your question, I find that when I show up as my true self in prayer, not as like the best version of myself or not the things that I think God wants to hear from me, but when I just show up as me and then I let God show up as God, then this exchange takes place and I’m able to receive all the things that He has for me. And that, for me, is what makes prayer not feel stagnant because every day is different. Every day I’m carrying something else with me to Him. And having that space where He meets with me is so life-giving.

Crystal: Angela, what I hear you describing is very active. It’s two-way. It’s interactive.

Angela: Yes. It’s interactive. Very much so. Very much so. And I think, again, that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in because the Holy Spirit is a praying spirit…. Jesus teaches us to pray to receive the Holy Spirit and yet also it is by the Holy Spirit we’re able to pray and to hear His voice and to know what’s going on. And I’ll say, it’s in Luke 11…. I love this. So, in Luke 11 the disciples come to Jesus and they’re asking Him, Lord, teach us to pray. Right? They’re seeing Jesus is praying different than anybody we’ve ever seen before. We want to learn from Him. We’re hungry to learn. And so they ask Him, you know, Teach us to pray. And Jesus kind of gives them this four-part response. The first part of His response is what we all know as the Lord's Prayer. And I would say He’s not saying, Okay, now pray this as rote. Even though it’s a very powerful prayer to pray as rote. I think what He’s giving us instead is a pattern of prayer. So He has us start, ‘Father.’ Like He has us start with our identity in Him. I am a child of God and so I’m going to come before you knowing that you love me and I can bring anything to you. ‘Hallowed be your name.’ He has us praising, reminding ourselves essentially who is the person we’re talking to. You are the God of comfort. You are the God of peace. No other name is above you, you know. So hallowed be your name. ‘Your kingdom come,’ right? So we’re praying for your will, Lord, to be done on earth. ‘Give us each day our daily bread,’ and ‘forgive us our sins.’ So that’s kind of like being a kid. Right? I feed my children and I take out the trash. And that’s what God does for us. He gives us what he needs and He forgives what we don’t need any more in our lives. ‘As we forgive those who sin against us.’ So we are offering that same forgiveness up to others. And ‘lead us not into temptation.’ Right? Protect us from this spirit battle that’s going on. I think what he’s doing there is giving us a pattern of prayer that we can follow ourselves, reminding ourselves who we are in him, praising his name. The next piece, portion of his answer, is this story about a friend who goes to another friend and asks for bread at midnight. And the friend’s like, No. I’m in bed. My children are asleep. I’m not going to get up and give you anything. But then Jesus says, Yet because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs. I think He’s telling a story here to say in prayer it’s not just that we’re friends. Come to me in boldness. Come to me and ask. And that’s this next part which is a prayer of promise. So we have a prayer pattern. There was this kind of prayer parable. And we have a prayer promise. “So I say to you…” And he says it 6 times so we really get it. “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks find. And to him who knocks the door will be opened.” So he’s essentially saying, ask me and you will receive it. And then at the end He’s saying what you’ll receive. And this last portion is the prayer power really. “So which of you fathers if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” here’s this last fish… “how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” So he’s essentially saying here, you want to learn to pray like me, I pray by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is how I pray. And so He’s giving us this four-part response to prayer. So, yes, it’s interactive… [laughs] It’s two-way. He comes. We pray. And then He does stuff through us somehow as we bungle along, as I’m doing right now.

Crystal: What I hear, too, is this is interactive and this stuff that He’s doing is transformation. And I read that you had said that if we want to see our communities, our neighborhoods, our cities, our world transformed, it’s not through sermons. It’s not through arguing. It’s through prayer. It’s that power of prayer.

Angela: We need good teaching. We need good sermons. We need service projects. I think, when you look at the early church in the Book of Acts, it was the same people praying as it was the same people serving the poor, as the same people going out and speaking the word of God boldly. Prayer is a part of the mix of the work of the church. A friend of mine has a quote:  Prayer isn’t everything, but everything is nothing without prayer. And so prayer just needs to be in the mix. It’s part of what we do. We can’t just have prayer. We can’t just do that and nothing else. We need the teaching. We need to serve our community. Without prayer then we’re doing it in our own strength. It’s tiring. We feel like we’re pushing on closed doors. And somehow when we pray and we seek Him and we worship Him, He makes a way in a way that we never would have thought possible. So prayer is not everything, but I do think it is like a lynchpin to all the other work that the body of Christ does.

Crystal: You use the word practice. From early in the conversation you used the words prayer practice. And that to me evokes these feelings of we’re just going to have to keep working at it. It’s not something we’re necessarily going to perfect. We’re just going to keep coming back to it, keep coming back to that time with God. And it’s always going to be there. And it will always be different.

Angela: Yes, to all of that. You know, just like starting a new habit like going to the gym, usually the first time is really hard. And then the second time you kind of feel like, okay, I’ve kind of got my bearings. And then the third time, then you start to build a rhythm. So I feel like in that way just to begin. So often just beginning and creating space to pray, whether that’s on our own or together as the body of Christ, beginning is really key. Just keep going. Keep practicing. I think practice is a great word as opposed to feeling like we’ve arrived at some prayer utopia and now we know how to do this. But instead that we just practice prayer over and over and over and over again. That, I think for the church when we gather to pray one of the hardest things to do, I think, is the weekly prayer meeting because it’s easy to do a one-off event, right? We can get guest speakers in and fun worship and those things are great. We need those things. But to have that regular, consistent, this is the time when we come together as the people of God to pray. Or, if we’re talking about ourselves, this is the time where I stop and I put everything at the feet of Jesus. Just creating that rhythm, that ongoing rhythm, even if everybody doesn’t show up all the time, even if you miss that, you know, oh man, I planned to do that; I missed it. But just creating that regular practice of seeking Him and talking to Him is so key. And then, yes, keeping it real. What wears me out is when I come trying to perform in prayer, or thinking God wants to see this part of me and not really bringing the other parts with me, that I feel like gets really tiring and exhausting because you’re trying to be a version of yourself. I think that’s the key is showing up as our true selves. I mean, I think about the disciples walking with Jesus and they always look like, you know, bumbling fools in comparison to Him. But yeah, like, we don’t got it just like they didn’t have it. But that’s okay. Like, he loved them and walked alongside them. He didn’t abandon Peter even though Peter denied him. He loved Peter. And so I think that’s the key, just knowing, okay, God, you love me as I am. You can use me as I am even if I feel like I’m not up to the job or I don’t have it today. That is the best place to have a conversation in prayer. I think we get really burnt out on the fake conversation. I think that’s why we get tired of praying, is because it just doesn’t feel real.

Crystal:  Angela, you’ve spent a lot of time helping people throughout the world to know how to pray, why prayer is important and helping them develop prayer and to an important discipline in their lives. So I want to ask you a question that we ask all of our guests on “Get Your Spirit in Shape,” how do you keep your own spirit in shape?

Angela: That’s a good question. There’s a couple of things. One is just my own time with God. So finding that space where nobody can interrupt it, which is hard when you’re a mom with young kids. But finding that place where no one can come in and like I said, I try to follow the Lord's Prayer pattern until I experience His presence. Like, earlier I was praying about this podcast and I wasn’t feeling peace. I was feeling anxious and nervous because I’m on here with you, Crystal. It was exciting. And I knew I couldn’t leave that time of prayer until I had received His peace. And then I did. And it was… You know, it was me. Again, an honest prayer of saying this is where I’m at. This is where I’m nervous, Lord. I’m sorry I’m nervous about this or that. And then His peace comes and I know He’s there. I know He’s present. And that just gives me what I need for the day. And so for me that’s what I would like to be a daily activity is just that time away with him. I will say this: If you’re a young parent out there with really young kids, I remember somebody said to me once, if you even just call out the name of Jesus in the middle of all the chaos, He’s there. He’s with you. And that is a prayer. And I needed things like that as well because you don’t always have a quiet room where you can tuck away and close the door. Sometimes you just need to say, “Jesus, I need you right now.” And that’s all the time I have.

Crystal: Well, finding so much of what you said today, I was just thinking for myself just taking and putting into practice (to use a word that we used earlier) how much that can really impact and change my own personal prayer life, you know, of…. I loved it when you said when you were praying about the podcast you sat there until you received God’s peace. You didn’t say, Okay, I’ve got 2 more minutes here. You took the time and you just stayed with it. I needed to hear that. Thank you. I’m pretty quick to have a timer set and what…’til I get to my next thing. So thank you for reminding me that it’s not my time. It never needs to be my time. This needs to be God’s time. So thank you again for being a guest on “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” It’s been such a joy to have you. Thank you for the important work that you’re doing and we just appreciate that you were here with us today.

Angela: Crystal, thank you so much for having me. It was a joy.

Epilogue

Crystal: That was Angela Chadwick, Global Director of Prayer for Alpha International. To learn more about Angela and the work she does with Alpha International, go to UMC.org/podcast and look for this episode. In additional to the helpful links and a transcript of our conversation you’ll find my email address so you can talk with me about “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” Thank you so much for joining us to today’s episode of “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” I look forward to the next time that we’re together. I’m Crystal Caviness.